Building Penn’s Brand, continued


In the 1960s, the Gazette celebrated “an urban university changing its face.”

The scientific and progressive University that had developed under Dr. William Pepper’s provostship in the 1880s and revived the vision of Franklin had given way under Harrison to one that celebrated links to the pre-Revolutionary 18th century.

The success of Penn’s new identity as an ancient institution connected by design and desire to English antecedents and American peers was immediately apparent. When 1903 began, Old Penn could report that the year just ending had been the “most prosperous year [with] more money received by gift than ever before.” For the next half a century, Penn’s identity and its future would lie in architectural forms derived from the English past.

By the 1920s, despite the construction of the new Franklin Field and its enlargement with an upper deck a few years later, making it arguably the most perfect football stadium in the country, Penn suffered because its national image had never coalesced into a coherent identity. In some measure, this resulted from discontinuities that are the nature of an urban campus. Within the Quad or along Hamilton Walk between the Quad and the Botanical Garden, Penn’s imaginary world of Gothic quadrangles was consistent, but Woodland Avenue with its noisy trolleys and the industrial neighborhoods along the Schuylkill were only a few hundred feet away. Despite the extension of the Cope and Stewardson palette of materials west beyond 40th Street and east to 32nd Street, the central campus was still occupied by strange buildings of green serpentine stone and the even stranger library. Nothing, short of a massive takeover of the entire region with street closings to eliminate traffic, would ever give the campus the idyllic unity of Princeton or even nearby Haverford or Bryn Mawr. If Penn was to succeed on its chosen stage, more dramatic steps were needed.

With the national economic boom generating skyscrapers that marked American urban skylines with highly identifiable silhouettes, Penn once again began to rethink its physical appearance—and its West Philadelphia location—in favor of construction of an idyllic campus for the men’s college somewhere outside the city. With America’s Sesquicentennial to be staged in Philadelphia, no better site could have been found than the bucolic countryside at Valley Forge, where Washington’s Continental army had survived its horrific winter to be forged into an effective fighting weapon that gave the nation its freedom.

The idea of a Valley Forge campus was first raised at an alumni dinner in Wilmington in a talk by trustee George Wharton Pepper C1877 L1889 and then was vigorously championed by H. Mather Lippincott C1897, first in his role as editor of the General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, and later as editor of the Gazette, as well.

In one of many pieces on the subject, “The Problem of a College in the City,” Lippincott compared Penn to such WASP bastions as Amherst, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Williams. He concluded that Penn’s future was constrained by its urban site and early Victorian buildings, and that the right setting and the right socially elite students determined the worth of an institution.

In the 1890s, Penn presented itself as an institution taking part in making the modern world, and in its catalog the University took pride in its location in the midst of the greatest assemblage of industry in the world as a teaching tool where young would-be engineers could learn on site! The alumni now argued that a suburban setting would enable Penn to build a campus that would project an elite image to attract the type of students who would elevate Penn’s reputation—and, by extension, theirs.

While the General Magazine beat the drum for the new campus, the Gazette initially took a cautious stance on the Valley Forge story, largely because it remained the official University publication. In the March 4, 1927 issue, it reported evenhandedly on the reservations of the University of Minnesota’s Dean of College Administration, F. J. Kelly, who was commissioned by the trustees to evaluate the idea. Kelly raised serious questions about the costs and logistics of providing faculty and administration at two widely separated sites.

Undergraduates were polled as well. The editor of The Red and Blue, Philip S. Mumford C’24, wisecracked that the College told students to use the city, and “we’ve especially gone to theater [which would be] hard to do from [the] country.” Despite these difficulties, the Valley Forge idea took on a life of its own. University committees were established to explore design possibilities. The chosen architects, H. Brognard Okie C1897 and G. Edwin Brumbaugh Ar’13, proposed a revival of the local colonial style to build on the national identity of Valley Forge.

In 1925, the Gazette was turned over to the Alumni Society to unify alumni communications. Over time, especially after Lippincott was named editor in 1931 in a Depression-inspired consolidation, it too joined the battle for a country setting for the College in Valley Forge on land of its own purchase, where Penn would be free from the onerous requirement to accept those other people who wouldn’t be accepted at Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Amherst.

In December 1929 (two months after the stock market crash), the Gazette reported that the trustees had accepted Henry Woolman’s offer of a 175-acre farm at Valley Forge as the site of the new men’s college. As the Depression deepened, there were difficulties on campus that augured poorly for Valley Forge. An article on the University assets in the December 16, 1930 issue of the Gazette reported a net value of nearly $50 million with only $18 million in endowments. Worse, of Penn’s $3.1 million budget, $2.6 million came from fees and only $500,000 was derived from endowment investments. Nonetheless, in the January 16, 1931 issue, it was announced that George W. Pepper had been made chairman of the committee for Valley Forge and the University affirmed the use of the Valley Forge property for the College.

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